By Dan Rankin
The St. Marys Lincolns will be glad to turn over a new calendar month for September, as August was not kind to them. The team dropped all three of their exhibition games last month, falling 4-1 to London on Aug. 29 and then dropping both games in a back-to-back home-and-home series against Stratford by scores of 6-3 and 5-3 Aug. 30 and 31. They close out their pre-season schedule tonight with a rematch in London.
Last Saturday before a crowd of 179 at the PRC, the Lincolns fell behind early when London’s Codey McRoberts slid one past St. Marys goalie Tyler Gubesch at 4:06 in the first.
Scott Munro, who played in 19 games for St. Marys last season without registering a point, tied things mid-way through the frame, assisted by first-year Lincoln Philip Buque, formerly of the Oshawa Minor Generals. Munro started last season with the Mitchell Hawks, notching one goal and five assists in 21 games. According to head coach Merlin Malinowski, he’ll soon be off to school in Halifax, but came out because the team was “in need of some bodies.”
On Buque, Malinowski said, “I like him. He works hard and brings that never-quit attitude that we want to have.”
It was all London from then on, as the Nats outshot St. Marys 27-12 in the final two periods, with balanced scoring from three more London players.
Gubesch got the loss in net, stopping 25 of the 27 shots he faced. With the Jr. D Thamesford Trojans last season, Gubesch started 16 regular season games, posting a 4-6 record with one shootout loss and a save percentage of .846. Ryan Langford came on in relief midway through the second, facing 17 shots and also allowing two goals. Over the past two seasons in net for the Midget AAA London Jr. Knights, Langford went 25-7-1 with a save percentage just north of .887.
London went for a perfect 5-0 in their preseason schedule under new head coach Pat Powers. They topped St. Thomas twice, 2-1 on Aug. 23 and 3-2 this past Friday, also shutting out Strathroy 4-0 on Aug. 26. They beat the Rockets again 4-2 Wednesday.
A bigger crowd was out Sunday to watch the Lincolns battle their Highway 7 rivals, with 250 packing into the PRC. The Cullitons’ Brady Heinz was hot in the 6-3 Stratford win, notching three goals in the first period. His linemate Tyson Baker racked up three assists in the period, while blueliner Darren Lebold got a pair of helpers on Heinz’s goals.
New St. Marys defenceman Ryan Martin walked the puck up the ice and netted an unassisted marker with a wrist shot midway through the first. “He transfers the puck really well,” Malinowski said of the 16-year-old Martin. “He’s an Erie [Otters] draft pick and he’s at their camp right now. There’s a possibility he could stick with that team; he’s just a real good hockey player. You have mixed emotions in that case – you’d love to see the kid achieve his goal of playing in the OHL… but I’d also like to have him on our hockey team this year.”
The Lincs drew within a goal at 9:28 in the second when returning defender Nick Whitworth buried a pass from Graham Brulotte. Brulotte and Whitworth were number six and seven, respectively, in team scoring last season.
Stratford scored twice more in the second, including an unassisted power play marker by Tyson to complete his four-point night. That came during a two-man advantage.
The Lincs struck again with less than a minute left in the second when Nathan Smith scored, assisted by Brent House, to make it a 5-3 game. In 2015-2016, Smith and House will look to improve on last year’s campaign when both reached 20 points. Joe Leahy scored Stratford’s sixth goal about three-quarters through the final frame to seal the win.
Returning goalie Tyler Beattie made 14 saves on 17 shots in about a period and a half, before Riley Collins came on to finish the game in net for St. Marys. He also stopped 14 of 17 shots, but was assessed the loss for allowing Baker’s gamewinner. Collins was called up as a midget to serve as back up for the Sarnia Legionnaires last season around Christmas, but never saw action. St. Marys was out-shot again, putting 27 shots on the net to Stratford’s 34.
Monday, the Cullitons came out on top again, winning 5-3 before a crowd of 357 at the Allman.
It was a two-point night for Whitworth, who tallied a goal and an assist, while Munro and Buque connected for another first period goal, and Greg Swan made it 5-3 with less than 30 seconds left in the third. A fifth goalie saw action for St. Marys, Jack Stockdale, who stopped seven of the 10 shots he faced in 26:44 of icetime. Langford was assessed another loss, despite stopping 17 of 19 shots.
“Nobody has really distinguished themselves,” said Malinowski on the platoon of goalies that have seen action. “On the weekend everybody played good, but nobody has stepped out and grabbed it. But we’ve still got some time.”
Last year’s starter 20-year-old Andrew Masters, who finished the season with Sarnia, has signed with the Trenton Golden Hawks in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
St. Marys finishes their pre-season schedule tonight at the Western Fair Community Center in London with a rematch against the Nationals.
The season gets underway next weekend, also at the Western Fair, for the league showcase. St. Marys has a “home” game against the Brantford 99ers on Sept. 11, and a “road” game versus Welland the following night. Both games begin at 7:30 pm. Their first regular season home game at the PRC will be Sept. 18 at 7:30 pm versus LaSalle.